Thanks to a fusion of culinary influences, the Croatian coast and hinterland provide some of the best, most varied gastronomic traditions in Europe. Here are six specialties you must taste along the country's mainland — not to mention while hopping among its 1,100 islands.
All the aromas and flavors of the Adriatic come together in gregada fish stew, a Hvar specialty that combines several varieties of whitefish with potatoes, white wine, olive oil, and garlic. A good gregada lives and dies by the richness of its olive oil, the freshness of its fish and quality of its wine; most importantly, though, the hearty pot should be shaken, not stirred. Try it at Macondo, a restaurant in the narrow backstreets behind the main square of Hvar Town.
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Croatian lamb is considered a delicacy; after all, the baby animals drink only their mother's milk, and their mothers graze off organic pastures flecked with Mediterranean herbs. An ancient appetizer, vitalac is a rare dish from Brač island, made of lamb innards on a spit that have been wrapped in caul, an intestinal membrane. This dish, which is usually eaten as you wait for the whole lamb to roast over fire, is particularly excellent at Konoba Kopačina, in the island's hillside town of Donji Humac.
Croatia's divinely tender and most loved dish, peka, owes its name to its cooking method. Meat, vegetables, and fresh herbs get a generous drizzle of olive oil; then, the combo is closed with a čripnja, a bell-like lid, and covered in hot coals, where it cooks for hours. For this reason, most restaurants request that you order peka in advance. There are a few variations (lamb, veal, octopus, and chicken), and you'll find one of the best at Restaurant Šišmiš on Šolta island.
This Dalmatian beef stew, swimming in a thick, sweet sauce, is compulsory at every local feast and wedding, and is usually served with homemade gnocchi on the side. The hearty dish requires timely preparation; the beef marinates in vinegar, lemon, and rosemary for a few days. After that, it's slow-cooked with carrots, red wine, cloves, nutmeg, and pršut (dry-cured ham). It's particularly tasty at Konoba Kalalarga in Makarska.
5. Istrian Fuži with truffles
Istria's dark and damp forests of Motovun and Buzet are famed for hiding some of the world's best black and white truffles. So it's no big mystery why the peninsula's rich gastronomic heritage focuses on this king of the underground. Istria adds truffles to many of its dishes, but a favorite way to relish the delicacy is with fuži, the peninsula's very own homemade pasta. For a true truffle extravaganza, head to Livade in Istria's hinterland and delve into the truffle menu at Zigante.
6. Viška Pogača
This poor fisherman's snack, which hails from the island of Vis, is a focaccia-like combo stuffed with anchovies, onions, and olive oil: the perfect packed lunch to keep fisherman nourished out on the Adriatic for days on end. Like the main town of Vis, the island's rival town of Komiža also has its ownpogača, with one extra ingredient: tomato sauce. There are many heated debates between the two fishing towns on whose pogača is the best, but you won't go wrong with the one served at Agroturizam kod Magića.
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